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The Kommandant's Daughter
September 10, 2013 10:53 AM   Subscribe

"Brigitte Höss lives quietly on a leafy side street in Northern Virginia. She is retired now, having worked in a Washington fashion salon for more than 30 years. She recently was diagnosed with cancer and spends much of her days dealing with the medical consequences. Brigitte also has a secret that not even her grandchildren know. Her father was Rudolf Höss, the Kommandant of Auschwitz."

Gallery.
posted by zarq (81 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
She was a child when atrocities happened. I'll cut her some slack.
posted by Renoroc at 11:04 AM on September 10, 2013


She denies that the Holocaust happened. I won't cut her some slack.
posted by Ghost Mode at 11:05 AM on September 10, 2013 [18 favorites]


I felt very sympathetic for her until she claimed that lots of Jews still hate Germans in general, and that probably not so many had been killed. I'm not going to judge how she feels about her father or what she claims about him -- he was her father, she loved him, he was killed and then her family suffered.
posted by jeather at 11:08 AM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ghost Mode: "She denies that the Holocaust happened."

Not exactly.
"Perhaps one consequence of keeping the past so private is that it remains insufficiently examined. Brigitte tells me she has never visited the National Holocaust Museum. And while she understands the value of a museum to remind us of the horrors of the past, she says it should be in Auschwitz or Israel, not Washington. “They always make things worse than it is,” she says. “It is so awful, I can’t stand it.”

She does not deny that atrocities took place or that Jews and others were murdered in the camps, but she questions that millions were killed. “How can there be so many survivors if so many had been killed?” she asks.

When I point out that her father confessed to being responsible for the death of more than a million Jews, she says the British “took it out of him with torture.”"

posted by zarq at 11:10 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


zarq, I don't know what you're intending to prove. That's pretty much textbook Holocaust denialist language right there.
posted by Ghost Mode at 11:12 AM on September 10, 2013 [16 favorites]


The ending of the article is about how and why the salon owner decided to see this woman as a person rather than a reflection of her parents and the world she was raised in. It's definitely worth a read before you start calling for her head.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:14 AM on September 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


I read the article on Sunday, in the newspaper. Nobody is calling for her head.
posted by Ghost Mode at 11:16 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


The ending of the article is about how and why the salon owner decided to see this woman as a person rather than a reflection of her parents and the world she was raised in. It's definitely worth a read before you start calling for her head.

When I read this yesterday I was curious if she ever had her holocaust denial speech with the business owner, or referred to their family as "them".
posted by inigo2 at 11:16 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Not exactly.

No, exactly.
posted by Cosine at 11:17 AM on September 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


The ending of the article is about how and why the salon owner decided to see this woman as a person rather than a reflection of her parents and the world she was raised in. It's definitely worth a read before you start calling for her head.

So can we dislike her because she seems slightly anti-Semitic? Because people here who are saying they lost sympathy for her aren't saying that it's because she had a genocidal murderer for a father, or even because she loved her genocidal father, it's because she seems to be some flavour of Holocaust denier, and even though it's understandable in her case, I don't see why we cannot slightly dislike this woman as a person based on her actual words while also feeling sympathy for her.
posted by jeather at 11:17 AM on September 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think that those of us fortunate enough to have our parents with us well into adulthood have a different relationship with them than those who have lost one or both in their formative years. We're much better able to see them as complex and flawed human beings. This woman has a particular and positive view of her father, and she's not interested in learning any truth which might conflict with that. It's hard for me to judge her too harshly for that.
posted by Slothrup at 11:17 AM on September 10, 2013 [26 favorites]


If there were a contest for most fucked up childhood, I'm kind of thinking Ms. Höss would be a strong contender. Of all the people out there who carry around a fundamentally at odds with reality view of the Holocaust, she's probably the one who is least surprising and most forgivable.

On preview, what Slothrup said.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:19 AM on September 10, 2013


Yeah, I think at a certain point the brain shuts off and you cannot comprehend. I don't blame her for being a denialist. When your father is, from your point of view, murdered at an early age, after your brother is tortured, you are not going to have a complex view at all.
posted by corb at 11:21 AM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Even if it is understandable that she's a denialist -- surely people who have family members who were in camps in WWII can, understandably, dislike Holocaust denialists?
posted by jeather at 11:23 AM on September 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


Ghost Mode: "zarq, I don't know what you're intending to prove. That's pretty much textbook Holocaust denialist language right there."

I'm not trying to "prove" anything. I simply think the greater context is a bit more complex than you're implying.

This woman is focused on denying a single aspect of the Holocaust that preserves her hero worship of her deceased father. Because of this, I think her perspective may be a bit atypical of the average Holocaust denier.

*shrug* I could be wrong.
posted by zarq at 11:24 AM on September 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


And while she understands the value of a museum to remind us of the horrors of the past, she says it should be in Auschwitz or Israel, not Washington.

“They always make things worse than it is,”


I wonder who "they" are.
posted by anazgnos at 11:25 AM on September 10, 2013 [14 favorites]


And while she understands the value of a museum to remind us of the horrors of the past, she says it should be in Auschwitz or Israel, not Washington. “They always make things worse than it is,” she says. “It is so awful, I can’t stand it.”

Not disputing her anti-Semitism, but the usage of the pronoun "they" is ambiguous. Is this her criticism of "Jews" or of "Washington"? It matters to some degree, given how much time she has lived in DC and what her experience of the culture there might mean to her, which would make her less of a Holocaust denialist and more of just a garden-variety anti-Semite. Not sure if that's "better", but it leads to a different understanding of who she is.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:26 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


This woman is focused on denying a single aspect of the Holocaust

The "aspect" under discussion here is that millions and millions were systematically murdered. This is not a "single aspect" of the Holocaust. It is the Holocaust. Not even David Irving denies that some Jews and Roma were killed. The denialism comes in when one refuses to accept the scope of the crime.

You can accept her beliefs and values. That is fine. I understand where they come from, and I think they are detestable.
posted by Ghost Mode at 11:29 AM on September 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


Is this her criticism of "Jews" or of "Washington"?

I thought she meant "Holocaust museums."
posted by yoink at 11:35 AM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


You can accept her beliefs and values.

I don't think anyone is doing that.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:36 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think "should we blame or exonerate this woman" is the wrong kind of question. If there's ever some thing that's just....blank, horrible testimony to the limitations in being human and the overdetermining nature of history, surely this woman is it. How can one expect her to process her father's public hanging, her childhood poverty and desperation, her rational fear of violent reprisal if she becomes known, the need to narrate a self despite growing up next to one of the evil places of the world? But how can we at the same time forgive or excuse or sympathize? This woman is overdetermined by a horrible history of human evil. That's not the same thing as saying that she's evil or that she is not evil and must be forgiven. She's just - in her relation to the larger world - a being who points terrifyingly to the ways that history can overwhelm and deform everything we might wish about individuality.

It's a horrible, horrible story - not because of anything she may have suffered (far less than so many have suffered) but because it's a coming-up-against the sheer, spreading, pervasive force of historical evil.
posted by Frowner at 11:42 AM on September 10, 2013 [30 favorites]


My experience with survivors of the losing side of the second world war is pretty familiar. You do what the regeim says, keep your head down and keep your actions in line with the party's line. If you can hear the message with half your brain, and the message is: "Us good, others bad" then it might even make you feel stronger and better being on the "good" side. Whether you get to keep that feeling depends on which side wins the ideological battle and gets the right to write the history. On an unrelated note. I feel kind of queasy being an american these days. Can't quite put my finger on it....
posted by Redhush at 11:44 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Humm. I remember a time when Holocaust deniers actually denied that the Holocaust happened. Now they seem to be Holocaust Minimizers. That's some fairly substantial goalpost-shifting. I guess that's progress.

It's worth pointing out for those who aren't already aware, that Brigitte's father wrote a memoir while awaiting execution. It is not light reading, but it is not a work of either Holocaust denial nor of a triumphant soon-to-be-martyred ideologue either. (And it coincidentally is the fly in the ointment of more than a few Holocaust-denial/minimization theories.) I'm not sure how that fits into Brigitte's memory of her father; it's hard to argue that it was extracted from him by torture, although you could argue that there is a very Scheherazade-esque quality to it, of a man stringing out his story before it ends.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:46 AM on September 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think the difference between her and someone like Irving is that Irving is a denier whereas she is in denial. I think it's hard to comprehend what it must be like to be a direct descendant of a monster. You probably have three basic coping mechanisms to help deal with the realization that at least something of them must also be in you: 1) full alignment, they were not a monster, what they did was right, therefore there is nothing wrong with me either. 2) denial, they were not monsters, it's all lies, I'll close my eyes and pretend that they were and that I am totally normal. 3) full acceptance, they were monsters, I must struggle with the question of responsibility through kinship and wonder if what made them who they were is also in me.

This woman seems to fall roughly under (2). When I grew up I knew a grandchild of Dr. Mengele who fell under (3) and was the son of parents who fell under (1). He ultimately killed himself because he couldn't stand the thought that part of him was of Mengele even though that is of course irrational. He simply couldn't manage to free himself from his heritage. I think we should have compassion with these people. They are not at all the same as scum like Irving.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:48 AM on September 10, 2013 [27 favorites]


Ghost Mode: " You can accept her beliefs and values."

I do not. No one here appears to be doing that. I believe she's an antisemite. As Hairy Lobster says, I think she's in denial. But I'm not convinced she is a full-blown Holocaust Denier.

Also, I'm not defending her values or beliefs. I would not: I lost family at Auschwitz.

Holocaust denial typically includes batshit Protocols-style conspiracy theories that "explain" why Jews are supposedly exaggerating the death toll. I'm not really seeing that from her.
posted by zarq at 11:51 AM on September 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


I lost family at Auschwitz.

Not in Brigitte Höss's mind.
posted by Ghost Mode at 11:52 AM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


And while she understands the value of a museum to remind us of the horrors of the past, she says it should be in Auschwitz or Israel, not Washington.

Such museums are located around the world because they are reminders of what people can do to each-other, not just memorials of specific events.

As someone who grew up in the 1980s and 90s in a relatively happy little corner of the United States, there has never been any real horrific national trauma in my worldview, but I learned about World War II and the Holocaust in school. Then my high school class took a trip to the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, where there are exhibits that put some of the descriptions of events into perspective, making history books seem a lot more real. In a room with bunkbeds that housed six emaciated people per level, and photos of such people enlarged to life size, an older gentleman asked me what I thought of all this. I think I had tears in my eyes and I was trying to come to grips with how someone could do this to other people. I don't remember what I said in response, but he quietly told me that he had survived it. I had nothing to say in response, and he walked on to the next exhibit.

That is why such museums are located outside of Germany, for kids like me who still couldn't fathom how really terrible we can be to each-other.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:56 AM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Even if it is understandable that she's a denialist -- surely people who have family members who were in camps in WWII can, understandably, dislike Holocaust denialists?

I would never tell anyone what to feel and think. But I think that it is important to try to have compassion once you get to the second generation, or you will preserve hate for the third.

This woman is fundamentally, irretrievably, broken. She is currently afraid that now, seventy years later, someone will come after her simply for being the daughter of the man who made Auschwitz.

Not in Brigitte Höss's mind.


This is also unfair. She doesn't seem to be denying that murders happened - just finds it hard to comprehend the scale.

I wonder also how much of that refusal has to do with actually being a child at Auschwitz, behind a gate, with only the healthiest and most "trustworthy" Jews being assigned as your nanny, your cook, your gardener, your maids. I don't think her father told her about the full atrocity.

Though holy fucking shit, is anyone else chilled by Rudolph Hess reading his daughter Hansel and Gretel in the fucking garden? You know, the one where they shove the witch into an oven?
posted by corb at 11:56 AM on September 10, 2013 [11 favorites]


Ghost Mode: " Not in Brigitte Höss's mind."

The quote I posted earlier shows this is not accurate.
posted by zarq at 11:58 AM on September 10, 2013


I remember a time when Holocaust deniers actually denied that the Holocaust happened. That's some fairly substantial goalpost-shifting.

Even the most far out there Holocaust denialist writers have never denied that some Bad Things happened. Holocaust denial is and has always been a numbers game. Again, denying that millions perished is denying the Holocaust. Saying "Yes, sure bad things happened to Jews and Roma and homosexuals but it couldn't have been that bad" is denying the Holocaust.
posted by Ghost Mode at 11:58 AM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


zarq, how many murders do you think Brigitte Höss feels is the true count? Clearly she thinks the scale has been magnified, and clearly she thinks her father did not kill one million people... Maybe it's limited to a few thousand in her head, hm? Sure, okay, you're right, maybe your lost family members fall into the group of people she thinks were actually murdered. Thousands upon thousands of other stories though? Lies.
posted by Ghost Mode at 12:02 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Redhush: "My experience with survivors of the losing side of the second world war is pretty familiar. You do what the regeim says, keep your head down and keep your actions in line with the party's line. "

Since she was a child during WWII, and the daughter of a high-placed Nazi official, none of that really fits her.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:04 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I didn't know that Höss was actually hanged near the ovens at Auschwitz. And, to think of how nice they had it in their garden while the daily operations of the death camp were churning along just meters away...

Anyway, you can get back to the mind-numbing hairsplitting about who or who isn't a Holocaust denier.
posted by planetesimal at 12:04 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ghost Mode: "Even the most far out there Holocaust denialist writers have never denied that some Bad Things happened. "

No, that's also not true. Harry Barnes said the Holocaust never happened. That it was a propaganda smear campaign by the Allied forces.

David Hoggan wrote a book which said something similar. They were two of the earliest and most strident Holocaust deniers.

Worth noting that Ernst Zündel's book also tried to cast the Holocaust as a smear campaign and tried to deny that Auschwitz and Treblinka were concentration camps.

If Holocaust denial ever had a "mainstream" the three of them would be a large part of it.
posted by zarq at 12:08 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


[Comment removed, cool it or go for a walk.]
posted by cortex at 12:09 PM on September 10, 2013


Sorry cortex. I didn't preview.

Leaving the thread now. I've said my piece and am uncomfortable with how aggressive and personal Ghost Mode is being.
posted by zarq at 12:12 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


You know, maybe this is a Jewish thing, but I literally don't remember ever learning about the Holocaust. It's something I just always knew about, and the reality of it shaped my worldview from the very earliest age. In primary school, classmates would describe how horrified they were to learn about it, and how it made them question the goodness of the universe or humanity, and I'd think "Wait, you didn't already know about this stuff? You thought the universe was good?"
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 12:21 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's a serious derail danger here.

Back to the father, lets be honest and look at his early life as a paramilitary veteran who beat a guy to death on the request of Martin Borman, in the scrum of the all the street violence and communism/fascism squaring off in the chaos of interwar Germany.

wiki on Rudolf Hoss

So it wasn't all bureaucracy and hands-off industrial killing, he wasn't a nice man really.
posted by C.A.S. at 12:23 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would never tell anyone what to feel and think. But I think that it is important to try to have compassion once you get to the second generation, or you will preserve hate for the third.

This cheap moralizing and rationalizing is really unconscionably, offensively glib. Oh, poor "broken" her! How sad it must've been, and how compassionate I should feel about it, that her father "was sad inside" and "looked sad when he came back from work" at the goddamn death camp! It's a good thing she isn't minimizing, but instead "just finds it hard to comprehend the scale" of the Shoah (according to your completely imaginary version of her thinking), because otherwise we might object to her still, after having a whole lifetime to reflect, callously discounting and minimizing the atrocities her father committed.

Honestly, the whole article presents both a reasonable portrait of a decent outcome of de-Nazification — she lived a quiet life as a mild ideological anti-Semite and denier, rather than as an active fascist, and she appears to have harmed no one directly — and at the same time a great piece of evidence that the compulsory re-education of Nazi children like this one might've really been a good idea. The idea that Höss gets to survive as a decent human being even if just in his daughter's memory is still offensive.
posted by RogerB at 12:23 PM on September 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


The idea that Höss gets to survive as a decent human being even if just in his daughter's memory is still offensive.

Presuming a mechanism existed - boot camps? electroshock therapy? drugs? - to reprogram the feelings of the family members of Nazi war criminals, are you actually suggesting it should be within the power of any state apparatus to actively intervene in the matter of how people feel about each other? You don't think Nazism was - among its many, many unconscionable sins - a catastrophic case study in the dangers of state-run social engineering?
posted by gompa at 12:33 PM on September 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


One of the uncomfortable quirks of humanity is that even horrible people can have adoring children.

From the Wiki link on Rudolf Hoss, his Nuremberg testimony includes the quote "I commanded Auschwitz until 1 December 1943, and estimate that at least 2,500,000 victims were executed and exterminated there by gassing and burning, and at least another half million succumbed to starvation and disease, making a total dead of about 3,000,000."

That's 3,000,000 -- by his own count -- on his watch.

I love my dad, and he worked for a defense contractor when I was growing up. He worked on the stealth bomber. It's nowhere in the same league, of course, but I have a hard time accepting and living with and believing the fact that my dad might have an iota of responsibility for the deaths of innocent people. I can certainly see where Brigitte Hoss would want to downplay her father's extermination of 3,000,000. It's simply easier to live your life that way.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:35 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


This cheap moralizing and rationalizing is really unconscionably, offensively glib

You know what?
The only people here* who have had family members murdered at the behest of a repressive and awful regime are myself and zarq.

And you're telling both of us that we're being offensive because we think cycles of hate are wrong? Seriously?




* - or at least the only ones who have self-identified as such -
posted by corb at 12:38 PM on September 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


The idea that Höss gets to survive as a decent human being even if just in his daughter's memory is still offensive.

So, she should have been subjected to psychological coercion and "re-education" until she was willing to denounce her father? Are you wishing the memories she has of her father being kind to her had been somehow taken away from her? How would that have made the world a better place, done justice, or honored the memory of the victims of the holocaust?

The salon owner's family seems to have a much better approach, frankly. You seem to want vengeance on someone who was a child.
posted by Area Man at 12:39 PM on September 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


The article mentions that Rudolf's grandson, on actually visiting Auschwicz, said to a reporter that if he could find his grandfather's grave he'd piss on it.

So whatever remaining sentiment Brigitte might have had for her father, it certainly didn't transcend generations. I don't think there's any reason to think that some sort of creepy mandatory-reeducation program would have done any better.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:39 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


This part of the article annoyed me: I realized that she was as much a victim as anybody else.

Well, no.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:40 PM on September 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm pretty uncomfortable with this public outing of an old woman who had no involvement with the actions of her father. Yeah, I guess she's a denier. That doesn't exactly make her unique among the US population. Nor am I seeing anything in her background that says she was actively involved with pushing denialism, or neo-nazi organizations or whatnot. What I see is a woman who opted to live a quiet life, and keep her family in the dark of her father's terrible history, probably for their own good. I can well imagine the grief that would have been visited down on her family had this come to light. I'd keep it a dark family secret, too.

This piece really strikes me as a cheap shot at an old woman before she's in the grave.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:45 PM on September 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


This part of the article annoyed me: I realized that she was as much a victim as anybody else.

I think that might be true for certain values of "she": as a child, she was certainly a victim, in some senses, even if the way she was victimized is orders of magnitude less than her equivalent on the other side of the fence, inside the camp.

As an adult, not so much, but it's still an extremely hard hill to climb to come to the realization that your parents were or are awful people, especially if in all your interactions with them they aren't.
posted by maxwelton at 12:52 PM on September 10, 2013


Brigitte also has a secret that not even her grandchildren know.

They obviously know now. I just hope she told them rather than their finding out through the media.

...Rudolf's grandson, on actually visiting Auschwicz, said... if he could find his grandfather's grave he'd piss on it.


While my sentiments are the same, I am encouraged that Höss's legacy of hate and denial of reality has not been passed down.

No one would choose to have a father so evil. I can't imagine carrying such a burden, wanting to love your father and hating who he was and what he did. The child of any murderer has much to bear, the child of millions...it's inconceivable. She is a child victim and a broken person. I can't forgive her her beliefs, but I can pity her.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:53 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


As someone who grew up in a violent alcoholic home with a father who physically and sexually abused many and then became a community organizing saint, the issue of personal accountability for our parents actions is always undergoing reframing and revision. One thing is clear, nothing is black and white, despite the continuing desire of some MeFites to pin terms of judgment on anyone who doesn't meet their crystal clear standards of moral accountability. The majority of folks I know are victims of their own childhoods to a certain extent, be they daughters of Nazis, or some schmuck growing up in working class Baltimore.
posted by Xurando at 1:02 PM on September 10, 2013 [17 favorites]


are you actually suggesting it should be within the power of any state apparatus to actively intervene in the matter of how people feel about each other?

Not at all, though I also (separately) think it's deeply dubious how you're trying to establish this realm of "feelings" as private and sacrosanct and totally apolitical. If there's anything this story ought to teach us it's that the family is politics. But I was talking about facts and ethical conclusions from those facts, not feelings, in any case: the facts that Höss's parents kept from her and that she, as a consequence, still won't fully acknowledge now. The children of prominent Nazis should've been taught those facts loud and clear.

Anyhow, this thread is obviously so rife with hot-tempered misreading, cheap moral self-congratulation, and rank bullshit at this point that it's hardly worth continuing to try to have a reasonable discussion against these odds. I apologize for commenting at all instead of just moving on.
posted by RogerB at 1:05 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Years ago, when I was working with the subject of the holocaust, I would marvel, with others, how after a day "at the shop," ie, Auschwitz, the commander, her father, would come home and play classical music, act just like a good middle class pater daddy, having put the the work of the day--murdering people--aside to relax and enjoy his time with his family.
posted by Postroad at 1:22 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not at all, though I also (separately) think it's deeply dubious how you're trying to establish this realm of "feelings" as private and sacrosanct and totally apolitical. If there's anything this story ought to teach us it's that the family is politics. But I was talking about facts and ethical conclusions from those facts, not feelings, in any case: the facts that Höss's parents kept from her and that she, as a consequence, still won't fully acknowledge now. The children of prominent Nazis should've been taught those facts loud and clear.

Although the point about feelings being political - and the family being politics - is really true and important, I wonder what teaching the children of prominent Nazis would have looked like in the wake of the war, given all the other ways things went right after the war.

I mean, right after the war, when strong denazification was still a possibility, everything was total chaos. I think a lot of US troops and administrators didn't even fully understand what had been happening in the camps, for one thing, and a lot of stuff was rubble, for another. Would it have been possible to seize the families and children of prominent Nazis and hold them somewhere without giving in to the temptation to kill or torture them? Who would have done this?

Given that, what form would the reeducation have taken and who would have administered it? Holding them until the actual trials of people like Hoss, perhaps, and having some kind of body to administer and oversee the teaching? (I mean, I don't think that this kind of teaching is automatically some kind of awful fascist abuse; I'm not questioning the idea itself.) When would it be done? How would they be deemed to be educated enough? Would it be all children of Nazis? If not, would the children of prominent Nazis be released with new identities, given that the creation of a body to reeducation them would probably only happen if there had been major, effective denazification and a big ideological shift?

Denazification wasn't that effective as it happened, right? That's what the RAF and so on were on about later, that there were still lots of former Nazis in banking, law, corporate work and so on.

The idea of reeducating the children of people like Hoss - it seems like it would only be likely to happen if there were relatively few active Nazis - otherwise you're pretty much talking about actively re-educating a huge percentage of children. As it was, that reckoning was pretty much deferred to the sixties.

See, this is precisely why I find the whole thing so foundationally horrible - it is horrible that it's hard to imagine a possible post-war Germany where denazification was complete and effective in the late forties, it's hard to imagine anything but the deferred reckoning of the sixties. And yet that's terrible! It's terrible that all those wrongs had to be tolerated and left to fester! It's horrible that the powerful and pervasive evil of nazi-ism just kept rolling even after its formal defeat. It's horrible that the trauma of the war itself in addition made it difficult to address the evil. Such a thing shouldn't be - but I can't imagine another way for it to be.
posted by Frowner at 1:31 PM on September 10, 2013


The children of prominent Nazis should've been taught those facts loud and clear.

OUCH!

And just who should teach these facts loud and clear? I'm sure on an intellectual level she knows what the truth is. She's reacting to her father's involvement on an emotional level and psychologically trying to distance herself from the horror by minimizing. What would you have done to her, have her sit down and read lists, count to a million, be made to tour the ovens and visit memorials?

She appears to have led a decent life, and hasn't passed any worship of her father or lies and denials down to the next generation. I dislike her beliefs, but I don't feel a need to whip someone who was a child involved in horrors not of her own making.

As far as teaching goes, American high schools are lucky if they have one page in a history text that mentions the Holocaust. We don't do such a great job teaching our own.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:37 PM on September 10, 2013


School full of Nazi children = prime target for angry survivors of WWII/Holocaust.
posted by planetesimal at 1:40 PM on September 10, 2013


Hitler's Children, the 2011 documentary, is available on Netflix Instant right now.

I just watched it a few days ago, and it makes me totally agree with RogerB that: "If there's anything this story ought to teach us it's that the family is politics".

The documentary is - I think -unmissable for anyone remotely interested in this post.

Description from imdb:

"Bettina Goering is the great-niece of Nazi official Hermann Göring. Katrin Himmler is the great-niece of Heinrich Himmler, second in command of the Nazi Party under Adolf Hitler. Rainer Hoess is the grandson of Rudolf Hoess, creator and commandant of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Niklas Frank is the son of Hans Frank, Polish Governor-General during WWII, he who was responsible for the ghettos and concentration camps in Nazi occupied Poland. Monika Goeth is the daughter of Amon Goeth, commandant of the Plaszów Concentration Camp. None with Nazi leanings, the five talk individually about what it is like to carry a name associated with the Nazi Party, being a blood relative to someone associated with hate and murder, being German at a time when that in and of itself was seen as being associated with Naziism, dealing with their family regardless of their allegiance to the Nazi Party, and if they feel any guilt associated with the actions of their infamous ancestor."
posted by Jody Tresidder at 2:01 PM on September 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


This woman is fundamentally, irretrievably, broken. She is currently afraid that now, seventy years later, someone will come after her simply for being the daughter of the man who made Auschwitz.

I don't think it's so irrational: from what it looks like, there are a few people in this thread who are chomping at the bit to do so, and MeFi tends to be one of the more level-headed corners of the internet.

Hell, Nguyễn Ngọc Loan (the shooter from this famous photo) had his home and business in Virginia vandalized when locals found out who he was, and he was on our side in the war.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 2:24 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Unless you were willing to come out as an active and strident anti-Nazi I think you'd have to be a big risk taker not to keep this kind of relationship confidential.
posted by Mitheral at 2:38 PM on September 10, 2013


"If there were a contest for most fucked up childhood, I'm kind of thinking Ms. Höss would be a strong contender."

No, not terribly strong. There were plenty of her neighbors at Auschwitz who would be far better contenders.
posted by Mr. Excellent at 2:42 PM on September 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


And she met an Irish American engineer working in Madrid for a Washington-based communications company.

The couple married in 1961. They had a daughter and a son. His work took them to Liberia, then Greece, Iran and Vietnam.

[...]

In 1972 they moved to Washington. Brigitte’s husband took a senior job with a transportation company, and they bought a house in Georgetown. It was a chance for Brigitte to start over.


Hmm, Washington-based communications company, Franco's Spain, Liberia under the Americo-Liberian single-party state over the majority of the population, Greece under the Colonels (possibly, depending on the timeline), Iran under the Shah, Vietnam during the War, retirement in Georgetown. Did anyone else read CIA here? It certainly adds a whole other weird wrinkle to the story, and to his comments about overcoming the past and who a victim is. Obviously, US companies supplied US allies, but it really struck me reading the article.
posted by Gnatcho at 2:43 PM on September 10, 2013 [12 favorites]


Gnatcho, I was just thinking that. Who better to marry someone with a dark and secret past than someone with a dark and secret present?
posted by like_a_friend at 3:16 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Who better to marry someone with a dark and secret past than someone with a dark and secret present?

It would make a great movie. You could cast Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis.
posted by localroger at 3:46 PM on September 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Who she was and where she lived was an open secret in DC in the late 70s, early 80s when I was a journalist there. . I don't know why it took him three years to find her.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:54 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


"If there were a contest for most fucked up childhood,"

I think many of the victims of her father would qualify way way above her.

She is also a victim of her father, but she's far far from the greatest victim of her father.

I don't see anyone claiming she deserves to be hounded, arrested, or killed for her past in this thread. Claiming that mefiters are likely to go after her is a pretty big exaggeration at best.
posted by jclarkin at 4:13 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


The idea that Höss gets to survive as a decent human being even if just in his daughter's memory is still offensive.

Yeah, okay, but I really wish people wouldn't kid themselves about stuff like this. The main thing that separates you or me from Hoess (or Eichmann or Harris or LeMay) isn't that they're terrible monsters down to the core and you and I are decent people. It's only that the systems we live in didn't shape us and demand these terrible things of us. Under different circumstances, and sometimes under shockingly flimsy pretenses, only a minority of saints wouldn't.

The scariest thing about the Holocaust isn't that a bunch of crazy monsters did it. It's that you and I and almost everyone can be turned into crazy monsters ourselves.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:48 PM on September 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


Given that, what form would the reeducation have taken and who would have administered it?

Without wanting to be flip about this, the simplest and most direct re-education was imposed on German residents near the camps right after their liberation, when they were gathered up and forced to walk through past the bodies stacked like cordwood as the former guards were digging mass graves for their victims.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:52 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know why it took him three years to find her.

Maybe the people who were in on the secret knew he was planning to do something that might be dickish and decided to play dumb?
posted by localroger at 5:07 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Her "soft denial" of the Holocaust is all about the numbers--there couldn't have been that many killed. In a similar vein, in Japan there are plenty of people who will admit that the Nanking Massacre occurred, but not in the numbers that the Chinese (and pretty much everyone else) claim. It's a kind of defense mechanism: to admit wrongdoing, but to sow seeds of doubt in the "official" story by calling into question the scope of the whole thing. If it wasn't as big and widespread, then it wasn't as bad.
posted by zardoz at 5:09 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also: If the secret was out among journalists, it seems very unlikely that Brigitte or the salon people got it there and much more likely that it came out as part of her husband's background check for that cool job that took him all over the world. Thus the secret was probably a very cool thing to know in the right circles but it was also something that would backfire on people who would really, really not like it if you were to make it too open.
posted by localroger at 5:09 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


The story says "salon" but I'm pretty sure she worked for a biggish dept. store in DC. I found out from someone who worked at Time-Life Books, and whose husband was with the State Dept.--they had been stationed in Berlin after the war. I'm not going to link to it, but B's existence was also known to an infamous Holocaust denier. I think the WaPo senior staff had known about her as well, but those editors are all retired.
But Harding (the author) hadn't really known his uncle's role, either.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:26 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


The main thing that separates you or me from Hoess...isn't that they're terrible monsters down to the core and you and I are decent people. It's only that the systems we live in didn't shape us and demand these terrible things of us

This Stanford Prison Experiment theme seems to have acquired a solid status as a received idea, but I think that it really does not explain the biographies of the Nazis very well at all.

Guys like Hoess were typically hard-core right wing anti-Semites, who joined the Nazi party early, became political street brawlers and sometimes murderers, and then, when the SS was formed, were welcomed with early membership. They were in no way coerced to become mass murderers; they eagerly embraced the chance to help solve "the Jewish problem". That Arendt seemingly believed Eichmann's self-serving testimony about his Nazi career whole-hog in her famous book, as the basis for her "banality of evil" theory, is puzzling to me. It's almost as if she had a need to explain away the Nazi sympathies of someone else whom she admired, and even loved.

I don't doubt that I'd be capable of terrible things if pushed into extreme circumstances. But equating this phenomenon to the careers of men who devoted their lives to political violence and murder seems to me to have become an evasion of facing hard truths more so than demonizing the Nazis as "monsters" ever was.
posted by thelonius at 5:28 PM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's a kind of defense mechanism

It's not a "kind of" defense mechanism, it is a very textbook defense mechanism.

Brigitte is not denying the holocaust to anyone but herself. She is not out in the public trying to whitewash her father's image or publishing articles questioning the numbers. She answers the journalist's question only after prodding and then a bit sheepishly, as if she knows she is giving the wrong answer. She is surely aware that her father admitted to the numbers.

But this is her father and he has never personally given her any reason not to love him, and she did not understand any of this until her family was chased from their home, her brother tortured to force her mother to betray her father, who was then subjected to a public humiliation and then killed very publicly and gruesomely. Against this personal experience the little girl is then shown pictures and testimony -- how is that supposed to compare to hearing your brother scream under torture, watching your mother give up your father only to see him die?

So she knows the truth, but she chooses not to know it for her own purposes. Her father was a gentle jovial man who was a good provider and who read nursery rhymes. He created the last world she ever lived in where she felt safe and entirely loved. She does not tell the journalist he is wrong about her father, only that she remembers him differently. She is very reluctant to discuss it at all. Finally, when pressed, she gives the answer she has decided on for herself even though she knows it is wrong, because it is what has allowed her to sleep for the last half century.

Should the Allies have grabbed her by the scruff of the neck and forced her to march past the dead bodies as they did the other townspeople? I think Hairy Lobster gave us a hint where that would lead upthread:
This woman seems to fall roughly under (2). When I grew up I knew a grandchild of Dr. Mengele who fell under (3) and was the son of parents who fell under (1). He ultimately killed himself because he couldn't stand the thought that part of him was of Mengele even though that is of course irrational.
So sure, let all of us fine and righteous folks who were fortunate enough not to have a father named Hitler or Hess or Manson deny this poor woman her coping mechanism. Let us do exactly what she has chosen not to try to do to us and force our perception on her because, after all, from our moral high ground it is our duty to pass judgement on everyone.
posted by localroger at 5:32 PM on September 10, 2013 [16 favorites]


I want to second kadin's comment that links to Amazon. Höss, at the behest of a a psychiatrist who examined Nuremburg defendants, gave an account of his life that is interesting and revealing. He was an underage soldier in WWI where he learned to accept violence as a problem-solver and later on was involved with the Freikorps. He became involved with a back-to-the-land sort of movement, all wrapped up in phony agrarian values, which is how he came to Himmler's attention. (Hitler and Himmler had this completely unreal fantasy about populating the East with German farmers. When Himmler actually stood in the Ukraine and looked at the vastness stretching to the horizon, he got a sense of the unworkability of his dream.) Anyway, the man was a murderer (he used the SS euphemism "necessary task" for his activities) but looking at his memoir is glimpse of the mindset of these people and, yes, I do think we need to try to understand them.
I'm not going to get into the shouting match about Denialism here, though it seems to me that the game is to get people to say, "Okay, maybe not six million" and then to follow up with numbers that are smaller and smaller until they vanish altogether along with throwing doubt on every bit of evidence that exists -- including Höss' own statement. And I do think the end of the linked story -- the bit about shared humanity -- is worth consideration.
posted by CCBC at 5:50 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Unless you were willing to come out as an active and strident anti-Nazi I think you'd have to be a big risk taker not to keep this kind of relationship confidential.

Even if you were an active and strident anti-Nazi, I think you'd be a magnet for crazy people. I can picture a scenario in which she would be killed because she "betrayed the cause."

[Her father] created the last world she ever lived in where she felt safe and entirely loved.

This. The woman must have lived with a shit-ton of repressed pain and anger. Mengele's grandchild chose the easier way.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:39 PM on September 10, 2013


Brigitte Höss did not choose her father, yet she has to live with the knowledge of what he did.

Keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation - Exodus 34:7
posted by JujuB at 9:21 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Holocaust and Hiroshima: the two scabs we'll never be able to stop picking at. And deservedly so.
posted by Twang at 10:54 PM on September 10, 2013


I love my dad, and he worked for a defense contractor when I was growing up. He worked on the stealth bomber. It's nowhere in the same league, of course, but I have a hard time accepting and living with and believing the fact that my dad might have an iota of responsibility for the deaths of innocent people.
posted by mudpuppie

Mudpuppie,
Either you're my younger sister, or our fathers worked together. My dad lost his aerospace engineer's detachment when the Stealth was operational (and he must have had to watch bombing run videos) during the first Gulf War; after that, he just marked time until retiring as early as possible.
My dad developed a conscience, but only after 30 years of building spy and war machines.
posted by Dreidl at 11:02 PM on September 10, 2013


The scariest thing about the Holocaust isn't that a bunch of crazy monsters did it. It's that you and I and almost everyone can be turned into crazy monsters ourselves.

I was thinking about this, and about this thread, last night.

It's really easy to make the Nazis into cartoonish representations of Evil. They killed millions of Jews, thousands of gypsies, gays, Catholic priests, political opponents, the disabled, and anyone they could get their hands on.

But it is also really important that we understand and even accept that the Nazis also had areas of their lives in which they were good people, too, because no one is all good or all bad. I am reminded of the photo of Nazis playing with a kitten that's been going around. These people were just people, with good and bad facets.

Why is that important? Because it means that it could be us. It reminds me that all of us, in the wrong circumstances, could do terrible things - and so we have to be more careful to avoid, as my Catholic heritage would say, "the near occasion of sin," the situation which makes it easier for you to do things you know you should not.

I was a soldier in the American army in the recent wars. I have friends who are good, solid men - who would do anything for me, who are kind to their children, who work for anti-racism back here at home - who also killed in circumstances where I wonder if it was really necessary. Who ran over children because they were told to - that children in the road were ambush points and they could not afford to slow down. Who shot people for being a little too slow, or a little too fast, or a little too suspicious, or carrying a shovel, or picking up a rifle lying around, or looking at a cache of weapons a little too long.

In many ways I think Hitler taught us the wrong lessons. We have learned to dismiss anything, if it's not quite as bad, if it doesn't contain the same aesthetics of evil. But that dismissal itself - that refusal to look at the commonalities between them and us - is what will cause this situation to happen again.
posted by corb at 1:55 AM on September 11, 2013 [14 favorites]


Because it means that it could be us.

I don't know why Americans insist on saying it could be us. It has been us. We haven't directly engaged in genocide, perhaps, but American foreign policy is bathed in blood. There's hardly a country on earth where we haven't been responsible for the deaths or torture of innocent people, directly or indirectly.
posted by empath at 3:22 AM on September 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


I can't help but take some small, wicked pleasure in the image of this daughter of Nazi privilege cashing a paycheck issued by Jews. Her father would plotz.
posted by Scram at 5:20 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Her father would plotz.

He would consider it the natural order of things in a world where the Nazi cause had been lost. That he did not take the Goebbels' solution so strikingly portrayed in Downfall suggests that, had he lived to see his daughter's fate, he might not have been so upset to see her live a long and fulfilling life despite the ruination of his own dreams.
posted by localroger at 5:42 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think this warrants a FPP, but it's here if anyone wants it.

My Grandfather, the Nazi Mass-Murderer
Nigerian-German recounts her shock at learning that her grandfather was the infamous "Butcher of Plaszow" featured in "Schindler's List."
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:22 PM on September 29, 2013


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